Self-Knowledge Enables Happiness
We continue our analysis of John Galt’s Speech in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. This text comes from page 934.
Reason = Virtue = Happiness
“Happiness is not to be achieved at the command of emotional whims. Happiness is not the satisfaction of whatever irrational wishes you might blindly attempt to indulge. Happiness is a state of non-contradictory joy—a joy without penalty or guilt, a joy that does not clash with any of your values and does not work for your own destruction, not the joy of escaping from your mind, but of using your mind’s fullest power, not the joy of faking reality, but of achieving values that are real, not the joy of a drunkard, but of a producer.
Happiness is possible only to a rational man, the man who desires nothing but rational goals, seeks nothing but rational values and finds his joy in nothing but rational actions.“
Happiness is a fleeting sensation for most of us. We live our lives in the hopes that a small percentage of our existence can be happy. It comes and goes.
But what Ayn Rand speaks of is a whole new perspective on happiness. Happiness doesn’t have to be based on emotional whims, which are transient and impermanent. Happiness can be created in oneself through living in accordance to rational values.
Simply stated: do good, meaningful stuff and you’ll be happy.
Happiness can’t come and stay if we unconsciously root its source in material possessions. Ferrari’s don’t make us happy. If they did, millionaires wouldn’t buy more than 1.
So if we wish to be happy, we must choose to hold our lives as our highest value. We must choose to rationally assess what values we are to hold in support of our own lives. And we must act out our values accordingly. Tell the truth. Keep an orderly house. Prioritize love and genuine connection in your relationships. Happiness will arise when you act in accordance to your values. You’ll know you’re living in alignment with yourself and your purpose.
Bullshit Alert! Bullshit Alert!
“Just as I support my life, neither by robbery nor alms, but by my own effort, so I do not seek to derive my happiness from the injury or the favor of others, but earn it by my own achievement.
Just as I do not consider the pleasure of others as the goal of my life, so I do not consider my pleasure as the goal of the lives of others.
Just as there are no contradictions in my values and no conflicts among my desires—so there are no victims and no conflicts of interest among rational men, men who do not desire the unearned and do not view one another with a cannibal’s lust, men who neither make sacrifice nor accept them.“
I can’t relate to John Galt here, and I don’t believe anyone can honestly say they have no conflicts in their desires. Human beings are complicated. We want things that are bad for us. We can even want things which have just caused us suffering, in pursuit of unconscious drives we are oblivious to.
Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy provides a framework for understanding contradictions in our desires. In IFS, we acknowledge that every human being has a “Self” – a foundation upon which the personality is constructed – a healthy, uncorrupted expression of one’s soul which possesses virtues like curiosity, compassion, creativity, confidence, courage, and more – a core energy and presence that is uniquely your own. The Self is you, as you were born, as you were made to exist.
Then, through traumatic experiences and societal conditioning, we gradually lose our “Self” energy, and learn to cooperate with the irrational burdens of the world. That’s where new sub-personalities are created. IFS calls these “parts”. These parts are created by the brain to survive in chaotic, uncertain circumstances. They are an adaptive survival strategy that works to save our lives.
While these parts serve a life-saving purpose in childhood, they do not update their beliefs or behaviors in adulthood. They perpetuate the same behaviors that used to work well past the point of them hurting us in the present.
If you’ve ever had a part of you really wanting to do something stupid, but another part of you wants to quit and do the right thing, you’ve experienced IFS parts.
Insofar as we are unaware of our dysfunctional parts, our values will not align with our actions. Our Self, that uncorrupted highest version of our being, will value generative and constructive things. Our parts, born out of traumas to protect us, will often view what the Self wants as dangerous and life-threatening. They cause us to rebel against ourselves in ways we don’t understand.
Thus self-sabotage, endless toxic relationships, eating disorders, chronic anxiety and depression are experienced by millions.
Ayn Rand’s characters lack self-knowledge to a remarkable degree. They are out of touch with their emotions. They don’t question their motivations; they accept that they must work and produce and that that’s the only purpose to their lives. They don’t hold deep, connected, fulfilling relationships with people whom they love and trust. They don’t open themselves up and experience emotion in front of others.
Without self-knowledge, it is impossible to live a life in accordance to your values.
First of all, you won’t know what the hell you even value if you don’t know yourself. Second, even if you did manage to somehow shirk the values society places on you and you chose your own, you’d have no way to assess if those values are actually constructive or destructive to your personality without great self-awareness. Third, even if you accidentally chose or discovered the best values to further your own life and happiness, you’d never actualize those values in a million years by relentlessly pursuing them through external circumstances. Your internal beliefs, by Rand’s own admission, determine the degree to which you can manifest your highest values in life.
Modifying internal beliefs requires self-knowledge. So there goes that whole idea. Nice try Ayn Rand. John Galt is and forever will remain a completely unrealistic and unobtainable fantasy due to this oversight.
Which is a shame, because if she had presented John Galt as a man who had become self-actualized through self-knowledge and self-healing, Galt’s character would be more relatable. The speech would be more desirable.
The story of the self-built man who reclaimed and healed himself is powerful.
The story of the man-born-perfect is bullshit.